New Ames Conservatory announces 1st holiday performance: "Polar Express"

New Ames Conservatory announces 1st holiday performance: "Polar Express"

Polar kicker: Theatrical dance event features exclusive guest appearance by Ted Keegan of Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera."

Yes, you read the headline correctly. The Telluride Dance Academy is not serving up the usual Christmas diet of sugarplums. I am saying Telluride is not succumbing to the tweeness that afflicts the rest of America and mounting yet another production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."

What's more, there is no longer a Telluride Dance Academy.

Next thing you know, I'll be saying there is no Santa Claus.

Which is what the little boy in another Christmas classic, Chris Van Allsburg's "The Polar Express" was starting to believe.

This coming weekend, Friday – Sunday, December 10 – December 12, at Telluride's Palm Theatre, the brand new Ames Conservatory presents its inaugural holiday production: "The Polar Express."

The story of the "The Polar Express" begins late one Christmas Eve. A young boy lies awake in his bed waiting for the sound of sleigh bells ringing from Santa's sleigh. Five minutes to midnight, his room begins to shake and he hears a thunderous sound: there's a train smack dab in the middle of his street. And it's headed for the North Pole. The boy jumps on board, where he finds other young people like himself, a number of whom share his doubts about the Santa business. Like the heroine of "The Nutcracker," Clara, the boy's journey is one of self-discovery. Its message: the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

(At this point, someone please stop me from channeling my inner Tom Friedman and waxing on and on about how much America needs to believe like the kids in "The Polar Express.")

In addition to Ted Keegan of Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera," the Ames Conservatory welcomes Zachary Prentice from Ballet West in the the role of the conductor. Paul DiStefano and Katie Bowlby return to dance the roles of the Snow King and Snow Queen (DiStefano, a homeboy, has been studying dance at the Joffrey School in New York.) And yes, there is a snow scene reminiscent of "The Nutcracker" in "The Polar Express."

Has our community embraced the Ames Conservatory and "The Polar Express" instead of "The Nutcracker?" Apparently this is a change we can believe in. For example, The intermission train was designed by Mike Kerr Custom Builders; refreshments by Aemono and on Sunday, Jim Riley of the Town of the Mountain Village is sponsoring "Sitting with Santa," with Elevation Imaging providing photo services. Hotels, rental companies, a hair salon and select restaurants have also weighed in, the restaurants, offering "Polar Express" specials.

For her part, artistic director/founder of The Telluride Dance Academy Valerie Madonia – thank heaven some things never change – embraces the shake up.

"With the development of the Ames Conservatory and a strong team of administration, teachers, and volunteers in place, we felt we were ready to produce something new and fresh for our audience and students. We were thrilled when my friend, the director of Louisiana Delta Ballet (LDB), sold us the rights to her sound track, choreography, and the use of some costumes for 'The Polar Express.' For me, as Ames's artistic director, it is a relief to do something different after having endured over 400 performances of 'The Nutcracker' during my long career as a dancer, choreographer, and director."

(Ed. note: Due to a technical glitch, Stephanie Ames' interview with Susan, which was to be a part of this article, will appear in a separate post introducing the Ames Conservatory. In addition, there will be one more post prior to the production of "Polar Express" featuring a conversation with local, now national, dancer, Paul DiStefano.)

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